Sports are fun and playing sports can be wonderful for kids: they get a healthy workout, learn to appreciate physical fitness, and they learn other lessons like being a team player and how to lose a game without losing a balanced perspective on things (like you can still win the season). No one is suggesting that kids should not play school sports.
However, with the news this week that it has been confirmed that NFL great Junior Seau suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a condition known to be caused by repeated brain traumas and concussions, more and more people are becoming concerned about kids and young adults who are playing contact sports, especially football. Seau’s name is being added to a growing list of professional athletes who have suffered severe injuries and trauma as a result of playing sports, especially football.
Coupled with this trend are studies that show more and more young people are getting hurt while playing sports.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there has been a jump of 60% over the past 10 years in the numbers of kids who are showing up in American Emergency Rooms for concussions and other types of brain injuries. And, in a 2011 CDC study, it was found that “…[f]rom 2001 to 2009, the number of annual TBI-related ED visits increased significantly, from 153,375 to 248,418, with the highest rates among males aged 10–19 years.”
Accordingly, the National Institute of Medicine together with the National Research Council announced last Thursday that the federal government has begun a study into sports-related concussions in youth and included in their research will be considering the long-term results on kids who play sports as well as the effectiveness of protective sports equipment.
A web site has already been set up to track the study’s progress and anyone interested in being notified with updates can subscribe to an email feed at the NIM site. From the NIM, this study will:
… prepare a report on sports-related concussions in youth, from elementary school through young adulthood, including military personnel and their dependents. The committee will review the available literature on concussions, in the context of developmental neurobiology, in terms of their causes, relationships to hits to the head or body during sports, effectiveness of protective devices and equipment, screening and diagnosis, treatment and management, and long-term consequences.
Specific topics of interest include:
-the acute, subacute, and chronic effects of single and repetitive concussive and non-concussive head impacts on the brain;
-risk factors for sports concussion, post-concussive syndrome, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy;
-the spectrum of cognitive, affective, and behavioral alterations that can occur during acute, subacute, and chronic posttraumatic phases;
-physical and biological triggers and thresholds for injury;
-the effectiveness of equipment and sports regulations for prevention of injury;
-hospital and non-hospital based diagnostic tools; and
-treatments for sports concussion.
Based on currently available evidence, the report will include findings on all of the above and provide recommendations to specific agencies and organizations (governmental and non-governmental) on factors to consider when determining the concussive status of a player. The report will include a section focused on youth sport concussion in military dependents as well as concussion resulting from sports and physical training at Service academies and recruit training for military personnel between the ages of 18-21. Recommendations will be geared toward research funding agencies (NIH, CDC, AHRQ, MCHB, DoD), legislatures (Congress, state legislatures), state and school superintendents and athletic directors, athletic personnel (athletic directors, coaches, athletic trainers), military personnel (sports medicine providers, athletic trainers, Service academy trainers and directors), parents, and equipment manufacturers. The report will also identify the need for further research to answer questions raised during the study process.
The project is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Athletic Trainers’ Association Research and Education Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC Foundation). Funding for the study was provided to the CDC Foundation by the National Football League. The project began on October 1, 2012. A consensus report will be issued at the end of the project.
Protecting Children in Sports: The Duty of Parents, Schools, Coaches, Sporting Gear Manufacturers, and More: Kids Should Be Safe to Have Fun
Again, no one is suggesting that children stop playing football, or soccer, or basketball, or that they be forbidden to ride bicycles or horses. However, parents need to be aware of the risks of head injuries (especially TBIs) and concussions to young people and if their son or daughter is hurt at school, they need to know what the protections are under the law and to insure that duties were met by those responsible for the sporting activities. Coaches need to make sure that gear is adequate and that it is used. Coaches and supervising adults also need to know the signs of concussion in children (head injuries and neck injuries can be slow to reveal themselves) and proper medical training and education should be provided to them.